Top positive review
I, too, dislike it
Reviewed in the United States on June 17, 2016
Ben Lerner's view of poetry is bracing, smart, original and humbling. All poetry must fail, he posits, because language is too limited to express our deepest feelings. We can dream we've written the perfect poem, but when it comes to setting it down, we fail (or, as Coleridge claimed, some jerk from Porlock comes along to spoil our ecstatic vision). Non-poets complain that poems are too complicated or abstruse (or they were ruined for poetry by a high school teacher insisting on meaning and memorization); traditional poets bemoan the loss of rhyme and meter; post-modern poets argue for purity of sound, and total freedom of form. That is, everyone hates poetry because it cannot possibly succeed, regardless of type. Yet, as Lerner's presiding genius, Marianne Moore, wrote:
I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
it after all, a place for the genuine.
That is, we should read poetry with no illusions, even with contempt for its failure, but to recognize that so many poems stir something in us, give solace in bad times, delight elsewise. Robert Frost said a poem should begin in delight and end in wisdom. We shouldn't expect any more.